Ever been surprised or disappointed by a colour in real life after seeing it online or in someone’s Instagram feed? So much of what we see these days might have been photographed and edited on a phone as opposed to a professional workflow with a high end camera, matching colour profiles, calibrated computer screens and photoshop. With a swipe and a tap, you can apply an Instagram filter that makes it look like you were hanging out in the hot California sun or like your photo was shot in 1974 on a film camera. Whatever hipster filter is applied can wreak havoc on the accuracy and true representation of colour. Generally, with many lifestyle photos that might not matter very much, but when we take and post photographs of anything to do with our yarns, knitwear garments, or colours, it’s essential that we aim to get the most accurate representation of colour that we can. It’s no easy feat.
After working for over a decade in graphic design before I started SweetGeorgia, I spent a lot of time trying to educate clients about how colours might look different on different monitors. Different manufacturers, different colour profiles, and different monitor settings could affect how a colour might appear. I remember investing hundreds of dollars on colour calibration systems — devices that would “read” the colours that were displayed on my monitor then adjust the output to match commercial printing standards. As a graphic designer, it was the only way I could be sure that the colours I saw on my screen represented what would actually be printed as a final product. There were so many variables — different printers, different paper stocks, and different lighting conditions all made colour appear differently. It was dizzying and frustrating, all the obstacles to the ever-elusive true colour.
The same thing is true with dyeing colours on yarn. Raw yarn comes to us from all over the world and is spun for us from all different blends of fibre. That fibre might be a bright and clean white bombyx silk or it might be a naturally honey brown tussah silk. It might be a creamy white merino or an oatmeal grey cashmere. Each raw yarn that we dye on is already it’s own natural colour even before we apply dye. This of course affects how the colours will appear once they are dyed.
Dyes are not like opaque paint pigments. Dyes are more like glazes. They wash the substrate in a layer of colour and previous layers of colour affect the final appearance. Think of it like layers of different coloured glass.
Trying to present accurate colour to our customers first starts with trying to capture accurate colour. We consider the colour temperature our lighting sources and have used grey cards to serve as a known standard to match when photo editing. We use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom to make edits and adjustments to produce photos and swatches that most closely represent the real thing. There was even a time when I would physically hold a skein of yarn up to the monitor while I was editing to try to get the closest colour. It’s crazy and maddening but so important.
Why do I think it’s so important? Knitting any project, whether big or small, is a great investment of someone’s time, energy, and resources. Add to that the fact that many knitters and makers are buying their yarn and supplies online, choosing colours by on-screen swatches, and waiting for yarn purchases to be dyed and shipped, it is no doubt a challenge if the colours are unexpected or disappointing. Accurate colour representation is so important for making decisions while project planning and it can be obfuscated by seductive but inaccurate photos on social media.
I have a few suggestions, if you need to get confirmation of true and accurate colour when you are making those colour choices.
- Visit your local yarn shop to see and buy the yarn. Go see the colours in real life and see if they are exactly what you are hoping for. With hand dyed skeins, there can be variations between dye lots, so if you see something you like at the yarn shop, I encourage you to pick that up rather than trying to find it at a later date or online. You might not get something exactly the same.
- Look at yarns in the daylight. Colours appear differently in fluorescent and incandescent lighting whereas they are most true in natural daylight. If you can, walk the yarns over to a big window to check out the colour. You might be surprised to see colour shifts.
- Check out shade cards. If you can’t get to a local yarn store where you live or are planning to order yarn for a project online, I recommend first making a small investment in a set of yarn shade cards. Many yarn manufacturers offer this so that you can see the colours dyed on short lengths of the actual yarn so you can get a better idea of what to expect.
Our knitting and craft community today exists in social spaces that focus on user-generated visual content. Know that an Instagram photograph shot on an iPhone and edited with that faded and desaturated filmic filter might be super gorgeous and inspiring but it most likely sacrificed true colour representation in lieu of creating a mood and aesthetic. Let yourself be inspired and entranced by the style and the message of the photo, but seek out the true colours in person. Colours may appear more colourful in real life.
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